United Kingdom Haydn, Il mondo della luna: Soloists, Chorus, Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra / Michael Rosewell (conductor). Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, Kensington, London, 25.11.2019. (CC)
Director – William Relton
Designer – Ruari Murchison
Choreography/Movement direction – Phillip Aiden
Lighting designer – Kevin Treacy
Ecclitico – Glen Cunningham
Ernesto – Jeremy Kleeman
Buonafede – Theodore Platt
Clarice – Natasha Page
Flaminia – Jessica Cale
Lisetta – Anna Cooper
Cecco – Ted Black
Haydn’s is by no means the only setting of Carlo Goldoni’s Il mondo della luna (The world on the moon) – Baldassare Galuppi’s was the first and Haydn was the seventh – but his Mondo is unalloyed joy, certainly as performed here. A pity the acoustic of the Britten Theatre is bone dry, as it does the strings no favours; add to that there were some tricky corners that will surely adjust themselves as the run of four performances continue. But none of that can detract from the vivacity of both Haydn’s music and William Relton’s staging (this is a revisiting for Relton, who has previously staged Mondo for West Green House Opera). Interesting to see characters don masks of the likes of ‘The Borises’ (Johnson and Yeltsin) and Donald Trump at one point, an example of the irreverent and frothy fun that lay at the heart of the evening.
Talking of political trickery, the plot concerns just how gullible one can be. This is opera buffa, and all credit to the RCM staging for delivering so many laugh out loud moments. Staged on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, it would seem a marriage made in Heaven. Buonafede is the duped gentleman, and Ecclitico the pretend astronomer. During this (and there’s some beautifully trippy lunar escapades), there has, of course, to be love. Ecclitico is in love with, and actively pursuing Clarice, the nobleman Ernesto loves her sister Flaminia and the servant Cecco is after the sisters’ chambermaid, Lisetta.
Cue a sleeping potion that enables Buonafede to travel to the ‘moon’, where the Emperor of the Moon holds sway. Haydn takes the opportunity to have a dig at class structure (opening the doors wide open for those references to our time). When Buonafede realises he has been tricked, he is furious, but eventually gives everyone his blessing.
The piece is cast in three rather lop-sided acts, with the second act (heard after the interval) rather long and followed by a much shorter final act that tie up the loose ends (and includes a splendid duet for Clarice and Ecclitico).
Michael Rosewell directed his young charges with a sure hand. He clearly understands the pacing of the piece – and, importantly, the pacing of comedy – well. The instrumentalists of the orchestra often excel; talent in our young players is clearly alive and well.
Of course, the set is dominated initially by a moon, and there is a framed space that can be used for various projections (books, for example). The set and staging utilise their space and props incredibly well, the lighting and colours of the hallucinatory second act particularly appealing (Monty Python’s Flying Circus might well have been an inspiration).
As regards the singing, there were some notable contributions, particularly perhaps from the Lisetta, Anna Cooper. It is no surprise to learn she has previously essayed Cherubino, and one feels assured that was a success. Cooper has terrific stage presence and her phrasing is ever stylish. The Ecclitico of Scottish tenor Glen Cunningham, too, was a triumph of comedic acting married to negotiating Haydn’s sometimes difficult demands, although perhaps a touch more projection would seal the deal.
The Buonafede, Theodore Platt, is a fine baritone who shows much promise, as does bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman as Ernesto (interestingly, on November 27 this will become a trouser role and be taken by Judith Le Breuily). The two main ladies, Flaminia and Clarice, were nicely contrasted, Natasha Page’s lighter slightly more piercing voice complementing the sweetness of Jessica Cale’s Flaminia. This is absolutely as it should be, as the two characters themselves are contrasted, Flaminia ruled by her heart against the more pragmatic Clarice.
Ted Black was a larger-than-life Cecco (who is in love with Lisetta). A cast, then, replete with promise. Haydn ensures each character gets a chance to shine with at least one big aria. A word also for the seven-strong chorus, each a defined character in their own right and tremendous value – not to mention capable of some lusty singing and physical high-jinx.
All in all, a fabulous evening at the theatre. It is entirely fitting that this score, composed for the wedding of the younger son of Haydn’s patron, is performed here by a set of singers brimming with youthful vivacity and enthusiasm and an orchestra clearly fully behind Haydn’s score.
There are some planned cast changed for the performances on November 27 and 30; that of November 29 is planned to be cast as above.
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